Austin suspends law targeting pro-life pregnancy resource centers
November 11, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – In a move welcomed by Texas pro-lifers, the city of Austin has agreed that an Austin pro-life pregnancy resource center may temporarily take down a sign stating that the center does not provide abortions or emergency contraception.
Austin LifeCare will not have to display the sign while the city considers the constitutionality of its law that singles out pro-life pregnancy centers to advertise which services they do not provide.
The agreement puts on hold, until February 2012, a lawsuit filed on October 6 on behalf of Austin LifeCare against the City of Austin. The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the sign law on First Amendment grounds.
“We are thankful to the City that it will take a closer look at its ordinance, and that in the meantime Austin LifeCare can continue to offer real help and hope to women without posting the City’s message,” said Texas Center for the Defense of Life President, Greg Terra.
In April 2010, the Austin City Council passed an ordinance to restrict the operations of what it calls “Limited Service Pregnancy Centers” - facilities that help pregnant women carry their babies to term without offering abortions or referrals to abortionists.
Under the ordinance, centers such as Austin LifeCare are required to “prominently display, at the entrance of the center, two black and white signs, one in English and one in Spanish, that state as follows: ‘This center does not provide abortions or refer to abortion
providers. This center does not provide or refer to providers of U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved birth control drugs and medical devices.’”
The first offense is punishable by a minimum $250 fine; a minimum fine of $350 is issued for the second offense and a minimum $450 fine for the third.
The fines only apply to individuals or organizations that primarily provide counseling information about pregnancy services or options. The ordinance does not require centers performing or referring for abortions to post any kind of signs about services that they do not offer.
In January, a federal judge struck down a similar ordinance in Baltimore. Following that victory, attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund secured an initial injunction against a sign ordinance in Montgomery County, Maryland, and recently won an injunction that suspends a similar ordinance in New York City.
Sam Casey, the General Counsel for Jubilee Campaign’s Law of Life Project, Austin LifeCare’s lead trial counsel in the case, said that he and his organization “applaud” Austin for backing down on the sign law, at least temporarily. Casey said that “there is no evidence that any pregnancy resource center in Austin is doing anything but freely providing a multitude of pregnancy services to women and men who are faced with an unintended pregnancy.”
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